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Avoid Non-standard Idioms


We often think our English usage is standard and current. And then, in fact, turns out to be either simply non-standard, or both non-standard and outdated. For example, a long time ago, I used to think the expression ‘eve teasing’ was standard English. But then I discovered that it was not a standard English expression. ‘Eve-teasing’ is a coinage unique to Indian English.

Is ‘Thrice’ Legitimate?

‘Thrice’ is another such tricky expression. It is as pervasive as the word ‘eve-teasing.’ And most people think ‘thrice’ is standard English. But in fact it is not. People say things like ‘I called you up thrice and you never answered the phone.’ ‘Thrice’ is certainly a legitimate English word. However, it is somewhat outdated. And not really used in conversational English any more. In place of ‘thrice,’ people use ‘three times.’ ‘Thrice’ is not wrong. But it gives the impression that you have perhaps been learning your English primarily from books. And rather old books at that. In comparison, the word ‘twice’ is very much in current usage.

For people who try to avoid using ‘thrice’ in a sentence, this creates a tricky situation. They start off with: ‘I tried calling twice in the morning, and then again thrice in the evening..’ In such a sentence suddenly switching from ‘twice’ to ‘three times’ breaks the rhythm of the sentence. You can deal with this problem easily enough. It is still good to avoid using ‘thrice’, and plan your sentence in such a way that you are not forced to use the word as far as possible.

Confusing Numbers

Phone numbers, or any long numbers in general are another very common source of confusion. If we have to tell someone our phone number, we typically use the expression ‘double.’ For example, a number like ‘988′ would be read out by most people as ‘nine double-eight.’ We are used to reading out and dictating numbers in this way, and tend to use apparently tricky phrases such as ‘triple-four’ and ‘double-two’ with ease.

However, most people outside India would find it hard to follow numbers that are being dictated in this way. If you are telling a non-Indian your mobile phone number, as soon as you say ‘double-nine,’ they are more likely to first start writing ‘2′ and then correct themselves to write ‘99.’

That’s because this way of reading numbers is non-standard and unfamiliar for most people.

Our way of reading numbers is indeed genuinely confusing, and should be used only in contexts where you are quite certain that your audience is familiar with this method or reading out numbers, and will not be confused by it.

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1 comment about Avoid Non-standard Idioms

  • Interesting read. I don’t think the Indian English way of reading numbers is confusing. It makes a lot of sense and is efficient. Likewise ‘thrice’ is also more efficient than ‘three times’. Maybe it’s time for the rest of the world and standard English users to adopt them!

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